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Minnesota woman who helped raise Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was shot mourns loss

ALEXANDRIA -- Marlien Lohrman of Alexandria was enjoying a quiet Memorial Day weekend at home when she received a phone call from her old boss at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.Lohrman and her husband, Ted, worked at the zoo during M...

ALEXANDRIA - Marlien Lohrman of Alexandria was enjoying a quiet Memorial Day weekend at home when she received a phone call from her old boss at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.
Lohrman and her husband, Ted, worked at the zoo during Minnesota’s cold winter months from 1986 to 2009, caring for the animals.
The phone call delivered shocking news: Harambe, a lowland silverback gorilla that Lohrman helped raise during his first 10 years of life, had been shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.
A 3-year-old boy slipped away from his parents, crawled past a barricade and fell about 15 feet into a moat surrounding the gorilla exhibit.
Zookeepers shot the 400-pound, 17-year-old Harambe after he dragged the boy through the water. The boy was taken to a hospital and later released.
“I was devastated,” Lohrman said. “I had a bad time wrapping my head around it, thinking how this could possibly be.”
Harambe was just 6 months old when Lohrman started working at the zoo’s nursery. As a docent, she changed his diapers, fed him with a bottle, played with him and helped him cut his teeth.
“He was very sweet and curious,” Lohrman said. “If there was anything unusual, he had to check it out. I remember one day when I was cleaning his room I was wearing something new - stripes around the top of my boots - and he came over and gave them a good look because it was something different.”
Harambe was affectionate and caring, Lohrman said.
“He was very, very loving,” she said. “All the baby gorillas were. If you came to work and weren’t feeling 100 percent, they’d seem to sense that something was wrong and they’d give you an extra hug to let you know they cared.”
Lohrman worked at the zoo six months out of the year but when she returned, the gorillas instantly remembered her.
“Their little heads would start popping up and they’d sniff the air,” she said. “Then they’d approach me and crawl up on my back the same way I’d carry them and they’d give me kisses on the neck,” she said.
Lohrman also cared for Harambe’s grandparents and his father, Moja, and mother, Kayla.
“I remember holding a handful of raisins out to Moja,” she said. “He’d smack his lips and pluck the raisins out of my hand, one by one.”
Harambe lived at the Texas zoo for 15 years before he was transferred to Cincinnati.
The circumstances surrounding Harambe’s death made national news. A video showing Harambe standing protectively in front of the boy and then pulling him through the moat went viral and triggered a furor over who was to blame - the zoo, the boy’s parents, the screaming crowd - and whether gorillas should be in captivity in the first place.
Lohrman closely followed the news coverage on TV. “I cried for days,” she said. “I had very strong mixed emotions.”
Lohrman emphasized that she doesn’t want to pass judgment on anyone.
“I wasn’t there,” she said. “It was a tragic incident. Hopefully, it will raise some awareness about preventing something like this from happening again.”
She added that the animals in a zoo are in their own enclosures for a reason. “People should respect the enclosures and be aware of the conditions.”
The barrier at the Cincinnati Zoo had not been breached for 38 years. As an extra safety measure, the barrier was raised to 42 inches, a half-foot taller than before and it now includes wood beams at the top and bottom and knotted rope netting.
Lohrman has had a close connection to pets and other animals her whole life. Her grandchildren call her “Gorilla Grandma.”
“I can’t remember a time when we did not have animals around us,” she said.
Lohrman said she’s heard a lot of people say that they wish there was something they could do in response to the tragic incident. There is.
The Gladys Porter Zoo has started a fund to benefit lowland gorilla conservation efforts. To donate through PayPal, use Harambe@gpz.org or mail donations to Gladys Porter Zoo, Harambe Fund, 500 Ringgold St., Brownsville, TX 78520.
Lohrman noted that if everyone who has been commenting on social media about the incident or has been touched by Harambe’s death contributed just a dollar, it would go a long way.
“If something comes out of this for the good of gorillas, it would be a very good thing,” she said.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA
Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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